Leaders of local United Methodist churches took a commendable stand generally opposing the church’s recent proclamation opposing same-sex marriage and gay clergy members.
Delegates of the national church — the third-largest faith community in the United States — voted on the position on sexuality at a four-day special conference held in St. Louis in late February. In a close vote, 53 percent of the delegates voted for the traditional plan, which opposes gay clergy and same-sex marriage, though many United Methodist Church ministers perform same-sex marriages and approve the ordination of LGBTQ people as clergy.
The Rev. Ken Coddington, of Trinity United Methodist Church in Greenport, said it is unclear how the church’s decision will impact local parishioners. “We’re having a special meeting on the 16th of March to discuss the actual implications and what this means to the church,” he said this week.
The Rev. Catherine Schuyler, from Catskill United Methodist Church on Woodland Avenue, is disappointed with the global church’s decision.
“I am sorry that the Methodist church has turned its back on baptized members,” Schuyler said. “We baptize babies and welcome them to the family of God and encourage them to serve God in whatever way God may be calling them. But if they are gay, we tell them we will not welcome them or recognize their gifts in ministry.”
The Rev. Carl Franson, leader of the Chatham and East Chatham United Methodist churches, said he planned to address the issue with his parishes Sunday and would explain the impact of the decision at that time.
“I have never expressed my viewpoint concerning human sexuality,” Franson said. “I have to serve people on both sides of the issue.”
Worldwide, the United Methodist Church boasts a congregation that is nearly one-third African, an extremely large and strongly conservative membership. At last week’s conference, the most vocal proponents of the traditional plan were from Russia and such African states as Liberia.
The Rev. Mary Langley, of the First United Methodist Church of Coxsackie, said the global reach of the church had a substantial impact on the vote.
“A disadvantage of being a worldwide religion is that what others think in other parts of the world can impact us. We do not agree on all the issues,” said Langley, who, like many in her parish, opposes the church’s decision. “Personally, I disagree with the ruling and I know many in my congregation are very upset about it because members of their family are LGBTQ.”
The local churches should have a strategy to ward off the influence of the global church, whose vote last month was far from a mandate. And the repressive beliefs of a church in Africa or in a Russian village tens of thousands of miles from Greene and Columbia counties can have a disproportionate impact on the thoughts of local congregations.
Local churches have strong, progressive beliefs about same-sex marriage and gay ministers, but they could face a tough battle holding on to their members’ hearts, minds and souls.